Robert Greeney: Thoughts on the role of the Amherst Planning Board

Published: 2/4/2020 1:22:04 PM

Praise to the Gazette for giving coverage (two articles in five days between Jan. 21-25) to the ongoing Planning Board appointment process in Amherst.

I was one of three candidates publicly interviewed, my second interview for a Planning Board opening in less than one year. The person chosen, Douglas Marshall, by many measures, is well qualified and a good choice.

However, in the interest of an informed citizenry, strong public engagement and a belief that a collision of competing and contradictory ideas leads to better outcomes, I offer the following points for consideration by the current Planning Board, town administrators, especially the town manager, town planners, town councilors, as well as concerned and engaged citizens.

First, the regulatory function of the Planning Board ought to be secondary to its planning and master plan functions. It is clear from both state guidelines and the master plan itself that the creation, maintenance and implementation of the Master Plan should be broad, inclusive and ongoing.

The selection guidelines for this new Planning Board member were strongly biased toward the regulatory function. Monitoring, updating and implementing the Master Plan has taken a backseat to large building projects.

Second, the meaningful inclusion of competing and contradictory ideas leads to better outcomes.

Third, the unrecognized potential of small scale, incremental, organic growth is inhibited, certainly not favored by our current regulatory forms.

Fourth, the unrecognized potential that owner-occupancy has for the difficult and elusive goals of affordability and diversity demands our attention and assistance. Encouraging owner-occupied duplexes and triplexes will add units that are more affordable than recent units.

Equally important owner occupancy provides a way for middle-income working class families to afford to live in Amherst.

Fifth, include idealism. What would Emily Dickinson or Robert Frost think? When I hear the sound of cars I feel the presence of cars. When I hear the sound of birds I feel the presence of birds. Feng shui means wind and water. Close your eyes and think about wind. Quiet you mind and think about water. With closed eyes and quiet mind, think about Amherst.

Robert Greeney


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115 Conz Street
Northampton, MA 01061


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